From the Gospel of John:
Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow-disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”
(From the Daily Office Lectionary – John 11:16 – September 12, 2012)
Commentaries insist that all John is doing in identifying Thomas as having been “called the Twin” is translating his Semitic name into its Greek equivalent, Didumos meaning “two-fold, twain, or twin”. But I wonder why he does this? A strain of Christian gnosticism insisted that Thomas was Jesus’ twin brother! Wouldn’t that have been interesting? How would we explain the Incarnation if the “power of the Holy Spirit” which came over Mary and produced a child with no earthly father had actually resulted in twins? Only one of them would be the Incarnation? Would that even make sense? No, I don’t think the gnostics got that one right, at all. But still, I find it intriguing that John throws in this little tidbit that Thomas was called “the Twin.” (He does it three times! He must have thought it important! See also John 20:24 and 21:1.)
This intriguing fellow, after Jesus refuses his disciples’ advice and decides to go to Bethany to deal with the death of Lazarus, utters the words, “Let us go, that we may die with him.” Die with whom? Jesus, one supposes. But he could be referring to Lazarus. Let’s assume (as most others have before us) that he means Jesus. Can’t you hear the exasperation in his voice? One can almost hear sarcasm. I can envision Thomas turning to the other disciples and saying, as so many Jewish vaudeville comedians have done, “Look who I’m talking to!” Yet again Jesus declines to take the advice of those closest to him. Yet again he’s going to do something they think is foolish, dangerous, and ill-advised. Sure that Jesus is walking into some sort of death-trap, Thomas heaves himself up and says (probably with an indignant sigh), “C’mon! Let’s go get ourselves killed!”
For all his sarcasm and indignation, however, Thomas is the obedient disciple. He may have objections; he may have second thoughts. He may know all the reasons that what is asked of him is impractical but, after having his say, he is still going to do it because his Lord has asked it of him. Could it be that John is not calling him “the Twin” at all? Could it be that in naming him Didumos John is calling him “Thomas two-fold”? “Thomas who is of two minds”? Thomas who voices objections but carries through in any event?
That’s the tough part of the story to internalize and make my own, the carrying through anyway. I usually only get as far as the objections, the second thoughts, and the impracticalities, or at least I take a long time to get through them (when I do get through them). For example, I knew in high school that I was called to ordained ministry, but did everything possible to not respond to the call as a young man. In college, my university chaplain and my parish priest both encouraged me to make an application for postulancy and to consider seminary. I followed their urgings but, looking back, I realize I also did just about everything I could to undermine the process. I was successful – I was rejected by the Commission on Ministry of the Diocese of San Diego. They told me finish college, maybe get a graduate degree and then re-apply. “Yeah, right!” was my reply. That was in 1973. Fifteen years later after two graduate degrees and a career practicing law, several refusals to my then-bishop who often encouraged me to consider ordination, and a lot of nagging from God, I finally reapplied and quickly went through the process. Twenty-two ordained years later, I can’t imagine not being in the ministry.
I guess that’s why I find Thomas so intriguing and so beguiling. I can relate to someone who voices objections, who gets exasperated with God, who gets a little sarcastic with the Lord, who complains about what he’s asked to do. I’m sure that he knew it was pointless, that Jesus was going to get his way in the end . . . but he bitched and moaned anyway, just to have his say. (Sometimes, I think Thomas’ post-resurrection “doubt” was not so much disbelief, as just another incident of getting in a snarky little dig.)
The really intriguing and beguiling figure in the story, however, is Jesus. I can see him sitting there listening to Thomas with a wry little smile and an affectionate shake of the head. He knows Thomas is going to come along in the end, but he also knows that Thomas has to have his say first, and he lets him have it. In my mind’s eye I see Thomas, having voiced his complaints, heaved his sigh, and spoken his sarcasm, getting to his feet and being the first one out the door, Jesus following him, smiling affectionately, shaking his head, and thinking to himself, “Look who I’m talking to!”
Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.